With his thrilling speed, stunning bravery and insatiable will to win, Ayrton Senna transformed the sport of Formula One.
His decade behind the wheel of F1 cars in the Eighties and Nineties yielded three World Championships and led to him being described as one of the greatest drivers of all time. But the brilliant Brazilian’s life was cut tragically short when he smashed into a wall at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 doing 130mph. He was just 34. Now the remarkable story of Senna’s life is being retold in a compelling and critically-acclaimed documentary, simply titled Senna. Private family footage and explosive arguments with McLaren team-mate Alain Prost reveal every side of this complex individual who craved victory on the track. His rivalry with Frenchman Prost was one of the most bitter in sport. British F1 legend Damon Hill was Senna’s team-mate at Williams when he died and insists the Brazilian’s impact on F1 is “immortal”.
Damon, 50 — who became F1 World Champion in 1996 — said: “His record is complete and he is untouchable. He expressed himself completely through his driving. He had 65 pole positions. There was no one like Ayrton over a single lap.
“I don’t think he could accept coming second. That was both a strength and a weakness.
“It’s especially dangerous in a racing car but he wouldn’t have been Ayrton Senna if he hadn’t lived his life the way he did.”
Senna won 41 F1 races and was on the podium 80 times. He died in his first season at Williams. Damon had only been the maverick’s team-mate for three races but even that brief exposure to greatness had a profound impact.
Damon said: “He made his car do things it didn’t want to do. My mouth was open in awe. He was just amazing.”
Senna’s jaw-dropping ability was on display once again over the weekend of the fateful San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. Having qualified in pole position, Senna was leading when he crashed into a concrete wall at the notorious Tamburello corner. His body escaped remarkably unscathed but part of the suspension pierced his visor causing a fatal head injury. A day earlier, on the same Imola track, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger had also died when he hit a wall at 200mph. The double death sent shockwaves through F1. The people of Brazil — to whom Sao Paulo-born Senna was an even bigger hero than the country’s beloved football stars — filled the streets in mass mourning. The International Automobile Federation, FIA, forced through numerous safety changes — improved crash barriers, redesigned tracks and better crash safety standards. The result is that, to date, Senna is the last driver to die in a race. He left behind his girlfriend of 13 months Adriane Galisteu.
Throughout the film, out in cinemas today, you hear mentions of motorsport’s dangers from Ayrton and his family. There is a clip of his mum commenting that “may God protect him” if her son makes it to F1. Damon was all too aware of the risks. The fear of death, he says, was “more real then”.
He said: “Because of Ayrton’s accident, a great deal was changed.
“The sport has lived on because of Ayrton and Roland and all the guys who died in cars.” After an investigation it was concluded that the steering wheel column in Senna’s Williams car had snapped just before the corner. But his nephew, Bruno Senna, 27 — who competed in F1 last year with Hispania Racing and is now a test driver for Renault — believes it was just a sporting tragedy.
He told The Sun last night: “There is no ill feeling towards Williams from the Senna family. It is F1 racing and it was an accident.”
Senna’s arrival in Formula One had been spectacular. In just his sixth race for the lowly Toleman team in June 1984, he passed five current or future world champions from 13th position on the Monaco grid. He finished first but lost out on a technicality to Alain Prost. Four seasons later he joined McLaren as the team-mate to reigning world champion Prost.
At the time, former world champion Keke Rosberg said: “If Senna thinks he can just walk into Prost’s team and become champion, he has a shock coming.” But it was Prost who got the shock — with Senna stealing his crown in his first season at McLaren. After that the relationship between the pair completely broke down. In 1989 Prost smashed into Senna in the penultimate race of the season at Suzuka in Japan to ruin the Brazilian’s attempt to catch him in the title race. In 1990, the situation was flipped on its head. Senna was leading the Drivers’ Championship by 11 points and if Prost, now at Ferrari, didn’t finish in the points the title was Senna’s. The Brazilian ploughed into Prost at the first corner, forcing both men out of the race and securing Senna his second title in the process.
Prost was so angry that when he joined Williams in 1993 he stipulated in his contract that Senna could not be in the team as well. Only when Prost retired could Senna switch to the dominant Williams car and compete for the title again.
British F1 star Lewis Hamilton’s aggressive style has been compared to Senna. Damon said: “Lewis hero-worshipped Ayrton but Lewis drives his own way — very passionate and committed and with his whole heart.”
Senna’s nephew Bruno thinks that if his uncle was still alive he would remain dedicated to Formula One.
Bruno said: “My grandmother believes he would be a team owner. What Ayrton liked most was to win.
“Overtaking was not so difficult in Ayrton’s time. He would be working with the other drivers and the FIA to improve the show for the fans.”
And that is what Senna always wanted to do for his supporters — put on a show… by winning.
source: © thesun.co.uk